Enabling Environments for Civic Movements and the Dynamics of Democratic Transition - Ukraine

Period of democratic transition: 2004–2006
Pro-democracy civic movement: present

In December 1991, Ukraine's voters ratified a declaration of independence from the Soviet Union and elected Leonid Kravchuk as president. Communists won a plurality in parliamentary elections in 1994, and Leonid Kuchma defeated Kravchuk in the presidential poll. Over time, Kuchma's government became the target of domestic and international criticism for extensive and high-level corruption and for the erosion of political and free speech rights.

The 1999 presidential election was marred by harassment of independent media, biased coverage by state media, intimidation of candidates, and illegal campaigning by state officials. Mounting high-level corruption led to the emergence of a protest movement in 2001–2002, which mobilized as many as 100,000 protesters at its demonstrations. Although the Constitutional Court ruled in 2004 that Kuchma was eligible to run again, support was so low that an alternative, Viktor Yanukovych, was chosen. With most national broadcast media under government control, opposition candidates, including former prime minister Viktor Yushchenko, opted for nationwide mass rallies, which attracted student and civic groups. In a runoff election between Yushchenko and Yanukovych, massive voter fraud was detected by international and domestic election monitors. The result was two weeks of massive protests known as the "Orange Revolution," in which millions took part nationwide. These protests, which were accompanied by assertive nonviolent tactics and a revolt against censorship by the news media, forced a new repeat round of elections that was won by Yushchenko. In free and fair parliamentary elections in March 2006, the forces that supported the Orange Revolution captured a majority, but infighting and mutual mistrust led to the defection of the Socialists and to the creation of a government led by Yanukovych and the Party of Regions.

Parliamentary elections in March 2006 were universally declared free and fair. However, it is still too early to determine how firmly democracy has taken root.

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